Mr. Melvin Kodenski, for his clients, made two preliminary objections regarding the petition for the protest of renewal. First, he echoed Mr. Prevas’s previous objection in the prior case: he told the commissioners that the statute says that the petitioners must say that they are not license holders or applicants for a license. Ward disagreed, saying that Kodenski could disqualify individual petitioners for being license holders, if any are. Ward said to Kodenski, “you ad lib as to what you’re saying the code says.” Kodenski’s second objection was that the petition had a typographical error, because it stated that the license year begins April 1, but it really begins May 1. Both objections were overruled.
Mr. Matt Gonter, Housing Code committee chair for Patterson Park Neighborhood Association (PPNA), testified first that the license had been suspended for overserving, illegal live entertainment and overcrowding. Mr. George continued to hold live entertainment events, advertised on Facebook, after he reopened. The establishment is advertised as a nightclub, though they do not have permission to have live entertainment. They also advertise hookah. Gonter submitted an outstanding violation notice from Baltimore Housing that the building does not have a valid use and occupancy permit and has not had one since the date of the notice, March 14, 2013.
Mr. John Wesby testified that he lives nearby in a home he purchased in 2007. When he bought his home, the area was “sketchy” and acted as an open air drug market. The area has improved significantly since then, but the progress is fragile. He testified that 123 N. Clinton Street is a very large property, with a large capacity. Mr. George had promised to deliver an upscale lounge where community members could enjoy drink or food, but he has created a nightclub that packs in as many people as possible. There are DJs and live bands, which they are not allowed to have. Large numbers of people leave when the club closes, and people urinate and are loud as they walk to their cars. He has seen people who are extremely intoxicated leave the club, people almost falling down as they cross the street.
Mr. Kodenski objected to the admission of letters from community members, because they are hearsay evidence. Ward denied his objection, stating that letters are proper in an informal administrative hearing.
Ms. Alicia Porter, a nearby neighbor, also asked the Board to deny the renewal of the license. She lives one block away and can see patrons get out of their cars and urinate on the street. She feels as though she lives in a nightclub parking lot in the summer time. Cars park illegally on her block. Patrons are overserved to the point that they can’t stand. She feels embarrassed and doesn’t invite people to come over to her house to visit her. When the bar was closed, she noticed the difference immediately. She didn’t have to clean up the block or power-wash her house like she usually does.
Mr. Andrew Brian corroborated his neighbors’ testimony about bottles left outside, intact and sometimes smashed on the ground and public urination. Patrons park in his handicapped parking spot in front of his house, so he has to call the police and wait for them to come before he can park his car.
Ms. Keisha Miller agreed with the other neighbors. She sees urination, vomiting, and fights. The music is too loud, and her son can’t fall asleep. She often sees the licensees’ employees put out trash on days other than trash and recycling pickup days. Another neighbor, who has lived in the area for 16 years, agreed with all of the testimony; she noticed a difference when the bar was closed.
Ms. Rachel Timmins, from the Baltimore Highlands Neighborhood Assocication, testified in support of PPNA and her neighbors. The boundaries of her community are only one block east of the bar, and she walks her dog by the building often. She tries to be careful of the broken glass around the bar, because she’s concerned about her dog’s safety. She notices lots of broken bottles and has witnessed men urinating in the alley behind the bar. On a few occasions, she’s heard loud music, including just last weekend.
Mr. David Leibensperger, former President of PPNA, testified that, as current chair of the Safety Committee, this bar is the one that he got the most complaints about from his neighbors, including, fighting, loud noise, throwing glass bottles, public urination and overserving. He has personally called 911 during one fight that he witnessed. Patrons often park illegally in front of privately owned garages.
Lieutenant William Colburn testified about two incidents in January 2015 at the bar. (1) On January 16, 2015, at 11:00pm, Lieutenant Colburn was on routine patrol when he saw three males outside of Punto G, one of whom was sniffing white powder and holding a clear plastic baggie with white powder. Inside a sandwich bag were 17 smaller bags of suspected cocaine. The police lab analyzed the powder and found it to be cocaine. The criminal case is pending in the Circuit Court. The individual who was arrested admitted that he had been drinking inside the bar. Lieutenant Colburn said that he had discussed cocaine use with Mr. George on other occasions, because there was clear evidence of drug use inside the bathrooms of the bar. (2) On January 17, 2015, he entered the bar at around 11:25pm with a Liquor Board inspector. Inside the vestibule, the security guard began jumping up to reach a switch, but he wasn’t very tall and couldn’t reach it. The guard said, “oh well, I guess it’s too late now.” Lieutenant Colburn and the inspector saw 8 to 10 people dancing inside. Colburn came back and flipped the switch, which turned on a bright white light over the DJ booth. Colburn testified that it was obvious to him that the switch had been installed in order to circumvent the law against live entertainment.
Mr. Kodenski then put on his witnesses. Mr. Robert Yox, who lives nearby, said that he has no problems with the bar. One time, someone might have left a beer bottle, but it’s just like a normal bar. He does hear the music sometimes, but it doesn’t bother him. Jessica Stinson testified to the same thing: she has no complaints about the bar and she doesn’t hear the music.
Mr. Luis George testified that he had made changes after his license was suspended. He doesn’t use the rooftop area anymore for patrons. He recycles and follows the direction of the police. Kodenski submitted a petition in favor of the establishment, from neighbors who live close by. There is another bar across the street, La Isla, which has a similar operation. George said that there are a few ladies who come to the bar and want to dance, but he asks them not to. He hasn’t received parking complaints from community members. And he is trying to create a dance club in Baltimore County for people who want to dance. He has spent thousands updating his bathrooms; he can fit 12-13 people in the men’s bathroom. He said that the noise and other issues can be attributed to private parties, because the area is active. He said that his wife does the Facebook advertisements that have to do with dancing, because there is a lot of competition among the Latino bars.
Commissioner Moore noted that there are a number of pages of the petition where everything was written in the same handwriting. George responded that the sheets were a mess when he received them from the person gathering the signatures, so they were rewritten and he didn’t have the originals.
In closing, Mr. Gonter said that Mr. George began advertising live entertainment the weekend after they were allowed to reopen, which shows contempt for the Board. Kodenski closed by saying that the neighbors who are complaining have never been inside the bar, while others who live close by have no complaints. He added that “this city is for all people, not just for a certain group of people. They’ve done everything they could possibly do. If things were that bad, you’d have plenty of things in your file.” Kodenski said that the individuals who are drinking too much should be held accountable for what they do, and Mr. George should not be responsible for it. He closed by saying that Mr. George “deserves the right to be in business, he has 10 employees, I rest my case.” Commissioner Moore responded, “that was truly a ball of confusion.”